Season After Pentecost – Doing what is right and good for all (The Epistles Passage)

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4)

There is a story circulating around on the internet, last appearing a good many months ago, of a minister who dressed up/down as a homeless person and appeared at church – just to see how his congregation would react. Yes, they failed that “hospitality” test!

I also heard from a friend about a church within her denomination who adamantly opposed any social or evangelical out reach, saying that is not the “purpose” of the church. Sadly there are not enough welcoming churches. I do not know the estimate of how many people are without housing or financial resources to meet their daily needs, but I suspect it is more people who go to church. Yet, if each person would help just one person, we could probably meet the needs of most of the homeless and needy. And even if it does not, the gratitude of those who are helped will make our efforts worthwhile!

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?” (James 2:5-7)

But I digress. The writer of James is not talking about social outreach but welcoming all people into your fellowship group. And the shame of giving preference to the rich over the poor. Although I would caution the writer of James that not all people who are rich as out to oppress the poor. Where we read in the gospels of Jesus scolding and chiding the Sadducees, Pharisees, scribes and others is where, I think, the writer of James is taking his perspective

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (Verses 8-10)

The writer of James goes on to give an example of his point, but the RCL does not always use that portion.

For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (Verses 11-13)

Both offenses, committing adultery and committing murder, are serious offenses; but I think the writer of James is setting the crime of partiality in a serious light by comparing it to the seriousness of murder. A good insight in to his thinking and the vehemence of his exhortation.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” ( Verses 14-17)

The writer of James has brought himself around to what I said several paragraphs back, that supplying help and assistance to those in need is a vital part of Christian living. The whole issue of faith in the Christian life, and good works in the Christian life is a “hot topic.” The friend I mentioned earlier encountered (or gives report of the encounter) people who see no reason to do “good works” but believe faith is all that is needed. Do not fall into that morass, beloved reader. I hope and pray that you do not! Selah!

Discipleship – Whoever are you and whatever your life situation

“… well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.” (1 Timothy 5:10 )

According to my review of the Confession, this verse should actually be attached to the article on “Foot Washing” for its mention of “washing the feet of the saints”. But it is also a good verse on the virtues of discipleship and leading a good Christian life. What this excerpt of the passage does not have, however, is verse 9 that says, “A widow who is put on the list for support must be a woman who is at least sixty years old and was faithful to her husband.” So while this verse is a good exhortation, it is actually a suggestion from “uncle” Paul to his mentee Timothy. And with that revelation, gentle reader, all the wind goes out of my sail.

It is a small issue, I know, this being so meticulous about what verses are attached to which article, and what the context is of the verses. As I said everyone should do “good deeds” whether they are female, over sixty and widowed – or a young strapping twenty-something year old who has not settle down yet. And seeing it from that perspective, the exhortation is a good one – even if Paul never meant it to be so. But Paul would be one of the first to suggest that good deeds should be the hallmark of any Christian, and I am sure in some letter or sermon he has said as much.

It is ironic, is it not, that the Confession did NOT use this verse as part of its scriptural basis for discipleship. Not that there aren’t other verse that exhort and encourage one do offer assistance and support to others, but here in this verse you have a template of compassion and caring that, if carefully phrased for inclusive language, could be applied to any adult of any age.

I will not, however, speak to Paul’s restrictiveness of who should and should not be on the “widow’s list.” Although it is tempting!

May you gentle reader follow not so much the letter of this verse, but the spirit of it that I have identified. And if you do, may you NOT be mistaken for a sixty-three year old faithful widow! Shalom!